Jyoti Basu: Marxist politician who combined realpolitik and revolutionary ideas - Obituaries - News - The Independent

Jyoti Basu: Marxist politician who combined realpolitik and revolutionary ideas

Jyoti Basu, who has died aged 95, was a staunch Marxist and a towering figure in Indian politics for six eventful decades. In 1997, he came close to becoming the county's first Communist Prime Minister. But the Communist Party of India (Marxist) Politburo decided against participating in the United Front government, a decision Basu later described as an "historic blunder". Others felt it was a manifestation of the insecurities of the Indian Left typical since the fall of the Soviet Union. In the end, H.D. Deve Gowda, of the Janta Dal party, became the premier.

Basu's name was a byword for intellectual, political and personal integrity, as well as for a straightforward but cool and imperturbable style. He was born into a middle-class Bengali family in Kolkata, then Calcutta, in July 1914. His father, Nisikanta, was a physician, his mother, Hemlata, a housewife. After attending St Xavier's Collegiate School and graduating in English from Presidency College in Calcutta, he travelled to London in 1935 to study law. While in England he was initiated to Marxism, coming into contact with Harry Pollitt, Ben Bradley, Rajani Palme Dutt and other leading lights of the Community Party of Great Britain. He joined the Indian League, London and the Federation of Indian Students in Great Britain and was elected as secretary of the London Majlis, an Islamic organisation, in 1937.

He returned to Calcutta as a barrister in 1940, joining the Communist Party of India (CPI) and marrying Basanti Ghosh, who died in 1942 (his second wife Kamala, who he married in 1948, died four years ago). In 1946 he was elected to Bengal's Legislative Assembly and was secretary of the West Bengal Provincial Committee of the CPI from 1952 to 1957. When the old CPI split in 1964, he was the kingpin of the new Communist Party of India (Marxist). He served as deputy chief minister of West Bengal in 1967 and 1969 in the United Front government; from June 1977 to November 2000 he was the chief minister for an unprecedented five terms for the Left Front government.

An astringent, unsmiling comrade, always clad in white "dhoti" and "kurta", he had many revolutionary ideas, many of which he realised when he was in power. He made a profound, long-term difference to the large, populous and strategically important state of West Bengal that was always his first priority. He implemented basic land reform, establishing India's first comprehensive system of democratic decentralisation and extended rural electrification and irrigation. Agricultural production came out of the slump in which it had been for decades before the Left Front came to power. In the 1980s and 1990s the state showed the highest rates of agricultural growth among the 17 most populous Indian states. As a consequence of the institutional changes and agricultural growth, nutrition levels improved and rural poverty declined noticeably.

On the national scene, Basu, a skilled practitioner of realpolitik, emerged as a compelling mediator and arbitrator. In moments of national crisis his was always the voice of sanity and common sense; he seldom, if ever, suffered from indecision.

Basu, whose first name means "light", had no political guru to speak of. Often described as a Fabian Socialist rather than an orthodox Communist, he was self-taught, though naturally influenced by Stalin and Lenin and having learnt much from his fellow Communists Muzaffar Ahmed and Saroj Mukhopadhyay. Disliking procrastination and inept administration, he worked as the sole co-ordinator between various ministries, every problem tending to cross his desk.

Basu's genius lay in negotiating the tricky interface between theory and polemic and the practical business of working with the masses and winning them over. He was helped by his early experiences as an influential trade union organiser, popular agitator and shrewd leader. He started out, as was typical for his generation, as a freedom fighter facing and overcoming the state-sponsored repression and intolerance in newly independent India.

In contrast to the Spartan lifestyle preferred by most of the CPI (M) leadership, Basu was known for his European sojourns during the oppressive Calcutta summers. He was a strong supporter of the abolition of English language education in primary schools but his son, Chandan Basu, and grandchildren were schooled at elite Anglophone institutions in Calcutta. It was also alleged that Chandan made the most of his father's political position to become a business tycoon. In 2006 the Supreme Court of India issued notices to Basu and others in connection with land allotments at Salt Lake city.

Unlike many Communist heads in other countries, Basu stepped down from office willingly and at the height of his popularity, after 24 years in power, in November 2000, succeeded by Buddhadeb Bhattacharya. The CPI (M) politburo wanted to use his services for "organisational expansion" in the country. But he preferred to spend much more time in his home town than in Delhi. However, the 18th congress of the CPI (M) in 2005 re-elected him to its Politburo. In 2006 he asked the CPI (M) to allow his retirement, but his wish was not granted. At the 19th Congress, in 2008, he was not included in the Politburo, though he remained on the Central Committee.

Haresh Pandya



Jyoti Basu, politician: born Kolkata, India 8 July 1914; married 1940 Basanti Ghosh (died 1942), 1948 Kamala (died 2006; one son); died Kolkata 17 January 2010.

News
John Travolta is a qualified airline captain and employed the pilot with his company, Alto
people'That was the lowest I’d ever felt'
Life and Style
healthIt isn’t greasy. It doesn’t smell. And moreover, it costs nothing
News
peopleThe report and photo dedicated to the actress’s decolletage has, unsurprisingly, provoked anger
Property
Home body: Badger stays safe indoors
property
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
The programme sees four specialists creating what they believe are three perfect couples, based on scientific matchmaking. The couples will not meet until they walk down the aisle together
tvUK wedding show jilted
Arts and Entertainment
US pop diva Jennifer Lopez sang “Happy Birthday” to Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow, president of Turkmenistan
musicCorporate gigs become key source of musicians' income
Arts and Entertainment
You've been framed: Henri Matisse's colourful cut-outs at Tate Modern
artWhat makes a smash-hit art show
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
filmsDaniel Craig believed to be donning skis as 007 for first time
Sport
Mikel Arteta pictured during Borussia Dortmund vs Arsenal
champions league
Voices
Yes supporters gather outside the Usher Hall, which is hosting a Night for Scotland in Edinburgh
voicesBen Judah: Is there a third option for England and Scotland that keeps everyone happy?
Arts and Entertainment
Pulp-fiction lover: Jarvis Cocker
booksJarvis Cocker on Richard Brautigan
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke and Pharell Williams in the video of the song, which has been accused of justifying rape
music...and he had 'almost no part' in writing it
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Senior QA Engineer - Agile, SCRUM

£35000 - £50000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior QA Engineer (Agil...

Marketing Executive - West Midlands - £28,000

£26000 - £28000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Digital Marketing Executive (SEO, PP...

Retail Business Analyst

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our retail client ...

Senior C++ Developer

£400 - £450 Per Annum possibly more for the right candidate: Clearwater People...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week